The great Utah land grab

Apr 30 2013 - 1:15pm

The state of Utah contains what many consider the most priceless and irreplaceable scenic lands anywhere on earth. The redrock canyons, plateaus, spires and thousands of archeological sites scattered throughout southern Utah are assets that no other state can claim.

The breathtaking visas and spectacular panoramas of these lands attract millions of people from all over the world. Unfortunately, these lands are under siege by a right-wing Republican agenda that has little or no love for their protection. They say otherwise, but no one should be fooled. It is an agenda written by, paid for, and promoted by the oil, gas, and mining industries to exploit these lands for their own profit. 

These people are after nothing less than a self-serving land grab. It is a land grab by a Republican legislature determined to allow exploitation by those who have the political influence and money to buy up or otherwise control these lands when they become available. Almost on a daily basis, we hear local politicians, state legislators and other political figures complain about the tax revenues lost to the state because of federal ownership of the lands. 

We should understand these complaints for what they are; a deceptive strategy to transfer ownership to the very interests that support and donate to the Republican Party. It is a strategy that will one day lock the public out and allow only a favored few in. The lands will become the private domains of the wealthy, commercial developers, and mining and drilling companies that have no real regard for their protection. The transfer will have been nothing more than localized theft of priceless lands that once belonged to all of us. 

House Bill 148, signed by Governor Herbert, requires that the federal government transfer title to 30 million acres of these lands to the state. It includes lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It also includes the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and the national wildlife refuges. It would also include the overwhelming majority of the outstanding red rock lands surrounding Moab, the San Rafael Swell, and Grand Gulch. The bill does not require the confiscation of established wilderness areas, but no one should be deluded by the Legislature's real intent. 

Under HB148 much of the lands would be sold outright to the highest bidders. Other designated lands would be kept in state ownership, but would be opened to oil and gas drilling, off-road vehicle destruction and commercial development. The rhetoric that the most scenic lands would be protected is not only deceptive but is absurd. Even more absurd is the contention that the reason for the lowest school funding in the country is because of the federal government's ownership of the lands, when the Legislature itself has continued to reduce education funding in favor of programs more compatible to its right wing ideology. 

Another absurdity is the rhetoric coming from Republican legislators that the lands should be "returned" to the state as originally agreed. At no time did the lands ever belong to the state, and it is nonsense to preach otherwise. The enabling act that allowed Utah to become a state specifically required that all claims for the lands be forfeited. This thoroughly debunks any new claims made by the Legislature. The state's own legal advisers have warned that both the claims and legislation itself are unconstitutional. 

Republican legislators and some state officials say that the state can do a much better job of managing the lands than the federal government. This is the most absurd claim of all. The state lacks the money and resources to manage its own state parks, let alone 30 million acres of federal land. They claim that state management would do a much better job in balancing the needs of local communities in the area. What they really mean is that their management policies would be dictated by self-serving ideological beliefs rather than professional land management practices. 

Some people have expressed outrage over the so-called lockup of some public lands to protect wildlife, critical watersheds, and wilderness areas. The only lockup involved is that they cannot ravage these areas with their dirt bikes, ATVs, and other motorized vehicles. They don't know what a real lockup is until they are stopped by miles of "No Trespassing" signs. They can go to jail even faster for disregarding these.  

Jack Allen lives in Roy and is a member of the Weber County Coffee Party.

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